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FY11 NASA Appropriations

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FY 2011 NASA Appropriations (1/13/11)

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) conducts space and aeronautical research, development, and flight activities for peaceful purposes designed to maintain United States preeminence in aeronautics and space. The geoscience community is most interested in the Earth science observations conducted within the Science Mission Directorate within four themes (Earth Science,Planetary Science, Heliophysics and Astrophysics). For more background information on NASA, visit the AGI Federal Agencies policy page.

For analysis of hearings held by Congress on NASA appropriations, click here.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 NASA Appropriations Process

FY10 Enacted
House Action
Senate Action
NASA (total)
Science (total)
--Earth Science
---Earth Science Research
---Earth Systematic Missions
---Earth System Science Pathfinder
---Earth Science Multi-Mission Operations
---Earth Science Technology
Applied Sciences
-- Planetary Science


Aeronautics and Space Research
Space Operations
*Neither House nor Senate appropriations bills concerning NASA were passed in the 111th Congress, and a continuing resolution has kept budgets at FY 2010 levels through March 2011.

 Continuing Resolution Holds 2011 Budget at 2010 Levels

Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (H.R. 3082) and the President signed the measure into law on December 21, 2010. The measure keeps the federal government operating at 2010 funding levels until March 4, 2011. Discretionary spending would be about $1.16 billion more than 2010 levels, with most of the increase for the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Nuclear Security Administration (related to the implementation of the ratified START Treaty). The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (formerly the Minerals Management Service) will receive an additional $23 million for increased oil rig inspections in the Gulf of Mexico, but the increase is offset by a rescission of unobligated balances. Federal civilian employee salaries will be frozen for two years under the continuing resolution.

The 112th Congress will need to consider the FY 2011 budget as soon as the new session begins on January 5 and will need to balance their considerations with appropriations for FY 2012. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner has suggested that discretionary spending for FY2011 be cut by about $100 billion to FY 2008 levels, however, many legislators have publicly stated that such cuts are unlikely to gain passage.

The Senate had initiated FY 2011 omnibus appropriations with a target of $1.108 trillion for total spending as proposed by the McCain-McCaskill cap amendment. This level was $29 billion below the President's FY 2011 budget request. Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies would have received about $58 billion ($6.4 billion less than FY 2010), Energy and Water Development would have received $34.5 billion ($1.05 billion less than FY 2010) and Interior, Environment and Related Agencies would have reeceived $32.2 billion (equal to FY 2010). The omnibus negotiations template may serve as a blueprint for any potential omnibus for FY 2011 appropriations in the 112th Congress. A full year continuing resolution for FY 2011 is also a strong possibility.

President's Request

NASA Will Focus on Understanding Earth
On February 1, 2010, the new NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated “Today we are launching a bold and ambitious new space initiative to enable us to explore new worlds, develop more innovative technologies, foster new industries, increase our understanding of the earth, expand our presence in the solar system, and inspire the next generation of explorers …” Bolden spoke at a hastily arranged budget release for the public and media. The Administrator tried to provide an overview of a very difficult budget for NASA.  Total funding would increase by $276 million for a FY 2011 budget of $19 billion, however, the budget is likely to change as the Administration and Congress continue to consider the future of NASA.

Most of the difficulties and uncertainties lie in the human spaceflight program. The International Space Station (ISS), which is supposed to be retired in 2016, is still being built. NASA is only planning five more space shuttle flights, primarily to service the ISS and afterwards the agency will have no human space flight capabilities for five or more years. The ISS will thereafter depend on Russian human spaceflight capabilities as the only remaining nation able to launch humans into space on a regular basis. The Administration is terminating the Constellation program, which includes the Ares rocket system for heavy-duty launches and the next generation crew capsule, Orion - leaving NASA with no specific strategy for future human space flight. NASA and the Administration appear to be shifting toward greater reliance on commercial space companies for the human space exploration program even though no commercial space company has come close to launching humans into space.

The Earth science budget will receive a significant boost of $382 million for a total requested budget for FY 2011 of $1,802 million. The budget will allow NASA to develop and refly the Orbiting Carbon Observatory ($170 million), accelerates the development of new satellites for Earth science ($150 million), expands and accelerates Venture-class missions, enhances climate change modeling capabilities, operates 15 Earth-observing spacecraft, launches three satellites, Glory, NPOESS Preparatory Project and Aquarius in FY 2011 and proceeds toward completion and launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (June 2013) and the Global Precipitation Measurement mission (July 2013).

Other highlights of science missions from the Administration’s factsheet include:
“*$3.2 billion for science research grants and dozens of missions and telescopes studying the planets and stars – including new missions such as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, missions to study the Moon, and two Mars exploration missions.
*$14 million ($420 million over five years) for a mission to the Sun, flying through its outer atmosphere to better understand how it is heated and how it ejects the stream of charged particles known as the solar wind.
*Increase funding to detect asteroids that could potentially pose a hazard to the Earth.”

Other highlights of exploration missions from the Administration’s factsheet include:
  “  * $369 million for a new agency-wide technology development and test program aimed at increasing the capabilities and reducing the cost of future NASA, other government, and commercial space activities.
    * $183 million to extend operations of the ISS past its previously planned retirement date of 2016. NASA will deploy new research facilities to conduct scientific research and test technologies in space. New capabilities could include a centrifuge to support research into human physiology, inflatable space habitats, and a program to continuously upgrade Space Station capabilities.
    * $600 million to complete the final five shuttle missions, allowing for a safe and orderly retirement of the Space Shuttle program even if its schedule slips into Fiscal Year 2011.
 * $1.2 billion for transformative research in exploration technology that will involve NASA, private industry, and academia, sparking spin-off technologies and potentially entire new industries.
    * $500 million to contract with industry to provide astronaut transportation to the ISS, reducing the sole reliance on foreign crew transports and catalyzing new businesses and significant new jobs.”

For more information about specific programs related to the geosciences please see AGI’s budget tables above.

The full factsheet on the NASA budget from the Administration is available online.

Details of the FY2011 request are available from the NASA budget web page.

House Action


The House of Representatives considers funding for NOAA and NIST in the subcommitte for Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Representative Mollohan (D-WV), other members include Representatives Kennedy (D-RI), Fattah (D-PA), Schiff (D-CA), Honda (D-CA), Ruppersberger (D-MD), Serrano (D-NY), Murphy (D-PA), Obey (D-WI) (ex officio), Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), Culberson (R-TX), Aderholt (R-AL), and Lewis (R-CA) (ex officio).

Senate Action


The Senate considers funding for NASA in the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Chaired by Senator Mikulski (D-MD), other members include Senators Inouye (D-HI) (ex officio), Leahy (D-VT), Kohl (D-WI), Dorgan (D-ND), Feinstein (D-CA), Reed (D-RI), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Nelson (D-NE), Pryor (D-AR), Ranking Member Shelby (R-AL), Gregg (R-NH), McConnell (R-KY), Hutchison (R-TX), Alexander (R-TN), Voinovich (R-OH) and Murkowski (R-AK).

Conference Committee Action


Appropriations Hearings

  • March 23, 2010: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Science and Justice Hearing on NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) FY2011 Budget Overview
  • February 25, 2010: House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing on NASA’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request and Issues
  • February 24, 2010: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Hearing on FY2011 Budget for Science and Technology

House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Science and Justice Hearing on NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) FY2011 Budget Overview
March 23, 2010

Major General (Ret.) Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Members Present
Alan B. Mollohan, Chairman (D-WV)
Frank R. Wolf, Ranking Member (R-VA)
Chaka Fattah (D-PA)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
C.A "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-MD)
Peter J. Visclosky (D-IN)
John Abney Culberson (R-TX)
Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL)

The cancellation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Constellation program was the centerpiece of the hearing. The frustration and tension surrounding the cancellation was palpable. There was also concern that cancelling the heavy lift technology required for launching rockets would jeopardize national security. The biggest source of consternation to the appropriators stemmed from the investments already made toward the program, many felt the large sum of taxpayer money had been wasted. A series of votes prevented the minority party from making official opening statements at this hearing.

Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) reviewed the history of NASA. Its inception during the Cold War stemmed from a flyover of the first satellite in space – Russia’s Sputnik. Mollohan broke from the nostalgia, reiterating that it is no longer the 1960’s. NASA’s budget peaked that decade and has been steadily declining ever since. He pointed out shortcomings in the program, lack of low earth orbit lab facilities outside of the International Space Station, and the large deficit NASA needed to overcome to complete the Constellation project. “Many yearn for the Apollo approach,” Mollohan said, “but is it necessary?”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said he understood the committee's concern and frustration, and that changes such as these were historical. Despite the cancellation of the Constellation program, which he attributes to cumbersome iterative research and development (R&D) efforts; NASA was still shooting to land astronauts on the moon, nearby asteroids, and Mars. Budget realities dictated the future of NASA programs, he stated, and canceling the Constellation program would allow NASA the time to create realistic path to achieve these goals.

Bolden highlighted NASA’s commitment to understanding climate change. The fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget included $1.8 billion for the Earth sciences, $1.4 billion for Planetary sciences, and increases the overall NASA budget by 1.5 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2011. The added funds would be use to accelerate launch dates for critical satellites, and monitor Earth’s climate, polar ice abundance, aerosol dispersion, and possibly active volcanism. Also, the FY 2011 budget requests $641.9 million for heliophysics research, and $62.1 million for NASA site restoration through the Environmental Compliance and Restoration program.

Peter J. Visclosky (D-IN) inquired about NASA’s astrophysical and planetary missions. Bolden explained that one of the most promising missions would be to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Its icy exterior is thought to contain vast oceans of amino-acid building blocks, Bolden continued, making it a strong candidate for containing life.

Adam Schiff (D-CA) also expressed interest in the Earth sciences program at NASA. He was concerned about how the cancellation of the Constellation program would affect other outer-planetary missions. Bolden reassured Schiff that NASA would continue moving forward on outer planetary missions, but NASA needed to complete the final decadal survey. Schiff was frustrated that they were waiting for another decadal survey, and inquired why NASA did so much “soul searching” over it. Bolden explained that it had to do with the NASA tier ranking system, but he was unfamiliar with the scientific nuances that defined the tiers because of his background as an astronaut.

Schiff was also interested in concrete launch dates for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), and the completion of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Bolden said OCO was currently scheduled to launch in February 2013. MSL progress was good, Bolden said, however he explained there were issues with the titanium quality being used. Bolden was excited to share that filmmaker James Cameron, who directed Titanic and Avatar, would be contributing new 3-D technology that would image Martian outcrops in much higher detail than before.

Mollohan was interested in NASA’s desire to send astronauts to Mars. He wanted to know why NASA could send astronauts to the moon, but was incapable of sending them to explore Mars. Bolden explained that one of the greatest risks to astronauts was exposure to cosmic rays. The flight-length projected for a Martian mission would be approximately 8 months, versus the 2 to 3 days required to go to the moon. He said that until NASA has technology to overcome long-term exposure to radiation and provide long-term life support facilities a Martian mission was impossible.

Michael Honda (D-CA) questioned why FY 2011 NASA science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education was not a higher priority. He pointed out that NASA’s STEM education program was reduced in FY 2011. Honda emphasized that the next century was dependant upon the U.S. producing high caliber scientists and engineers. Bolden agreed, noting part of NASA’s job was to inspire future generations, and hoped to continue NASA’s legacy of inspiration. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) echoed similar concerns to Honda, but commended NASA on their past educational efforts.

Representatives feared for U.S. national security with the cancellation of Constellationbecause if there was no low earth orbit R&D, particularly for heavy lift capabilities, the U.S. could fall behind. Many representatives felt that Bolden needed to re-familiarize himself with the NASA mission towards aeronautics. Ranking Member Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) accused Bolden of “practically ceding the moon to China.”

Bolden admitted that this handling of the FY2011 budget was poor, and he should have consulted Congress more during the process. Wolf, who had heard from several high-ranking NASA employees, shared with the committee that even NASA employees were caught off guard by this decision and had expressed to Wolf that they felt their opinion had not been considered. In the spirit of reconciliation, Wolf suggested Bolden should consider a small, closed door meeting with these parties to hear their story. Despite the criticisms the committee issued to Bolden, all of them recognized that he was a good man and model American.

No webcast of this hearing is available.


House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing on NASA’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request and Issues
February 25, 2010

General Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Committee Members Present
Bart Gordon, Chairman (D-TN)
Pete Olson, Ranking Member pro tempore (R-TX)
Brian Baird  (D-WA)
Jerry Costello (D-IL)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Alan Grayson (D-FL)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL)
Jim Matheson (D-UT)
Michael McCaul (R-TX)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)
David Wu (D-OR)

Visiting Members
Rob Bishop (R-UT)
Parker Griffith (R-AL)
Bill Posey (R-FL)

The House Science and Technology Committee had the opportunity to question NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the President’s request for the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget. In particularly, the committee focused on the shift away from NASA controlled human space flight with the cancellation of the Constellation program.

Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) called upon a number of positive features in the FY2011 budget, “I’m pleased with the increases for the aeronautics program and the Earth science program. It is hard to think of another NASA program that has had more of an impact on our economic competitiveness, national security, and quality of life than aeronautics. And I’m glad to see the administration recognizes the critical role that NASA’s Earth science program and climate research play in increasing our understanding of climate change and other phenomena that impact our society.”
Gordon applauded the long-term investments in the budget, but had less support for the short-term decisions for human space flight. “This budget proposal represents a radical change from the approach to human space flight and exploration that has been authorized and funded by successive congresses over the past five years,” said Gordon.  “This new approach is not clearly traceable to either past legislation or past policy directives, and it has raised as many questions as it has answered.” 

Ranking Member Pro Tempore Pete Olson (R-TX), speaking on behalf of Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), was concerned by the lack of details and poor public roll-out saying, “I cannot understand how the administration can propose such an ill-conceived decision to cancel the Constellation program without providing a compelling alternative plan with measurable goals and adequate resources.” Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairwoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) said, “What is most striking about the budget is the lack of an overall vision. Our space program is one of the crown jewels of our nation, and we must proceed carefully to maintain it.”

Bolden took the opportunity to highlight the positive aspects of the budget, explaining that $6 billion would go to NASA science research and development (R&D) over the next five years. NASA will use these funds to accelerate and expand climate change and Earth observations. NASA missions will not be lost either. Bolden said the focus will be on near-Earth asteroids, the moon and Mars—with Mars being the ultimate goal.

Despite this positive testimony, the cuts to Constellation—the human space flight program aimed at launching Americans into low-Earth orbit after the retirement of the space shuttle and getting to Mars—were at the center of the debate. The FY2011 budget proposes to rely on private industry to develop launch capability. Gordon wanted clarification on the proposed estimates for commercial development. Gordon said the FY2011 budget shows a 62 percent increase over previous estimates, which Bolden was unclear about. Gordon asked for confirmation because if commercial companies are not less expensive, the administration needs a good explanation for cancelling Constellation.

Bolden took full responsibility for the budget, and apologized for the lack of details and poor communication. He addressed questions about cancellation rationale, reducing the NASA workforce, and maintaining NASA leadership and inspiration.

Representative Olson asked for a back-up plan in case the commercial companies fail. Bolden thought that commercial companies were safer than Constellation because with Constellation there was only one option. Going to the private sector invites competitive bidding between companies therefore creating more options to pursue. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) supported this idea, saying big companies like Boeing have “done tremendous work.” “NASA can’t do everything,” he continued, if programs are over budget and behind schedule someone needs to decide what to do. Rohrabacher commended Bolden for making that decision.

Representative David Wu (D-OR) did not think Rohrabacher made a good analogy since ballistic companies’ work was not the same as getting to low-Earth orbit. He worried that “all our eggs are in the private sector basket.” He said costs increased for NASA because it was a difficult challenge, and did not think switching to private companies protected against unexpected cost increases.

Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), and Rob Bishop (R-UT) all asked how NASA will continue to inspire its workforce and youth without the space program. For the current workforce, Bolden said NASA will work to cross-train them to be ready for the transition. NASA will also focus on getting kids into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields so as not to lose a future workforce. Inspiration will come in the form of programs, like the new Summer of Innovation, and others recommended in the decadal survey. With a $20 million increase in the FY2011 budget, Bolden wants “to radically change how we do education at NASA.” Bishop quipped that a summer program is not going to inspire youth when the people in the field are getting the pink slip.

Representative Edwards focused on the “three-legged stool” analogy for NASA, where Earth science, R&D, and human space flight are each a leg. Edwards felt NASA was losing a leg. Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) saw the budget focusing on climate change and Earth observations and avoiding the core mission of NASA—space flight.

Bolden explained that Constellation was not getting the U.S. back to the moon anytime soon, whereas the FY2011 budge makes it likely to be achieved in 10 years and only 5-6 years before returning to the International Space Station without, as Representative Lincoln David (D-TN) put it, “hitchhiking with China or Russia.”

Davis concluded that “all of us [committee members] are visionaries. We can see the future, but we cannot predict the future.” With that, Bolden promised a more detailed program outline soon. NASA is taking into account the Augustine report and other recommendations, hoping to capture the essence of Constellation and currently successful programs at NASA, to formulate a more cohesive plan to present to the committee in the near future.  

The full text of the witness testimony, opening statements, and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.


House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Hearing on FY2011 Budget for Science and Technology
February 24, 2010

Dr. John Holdren
Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Committee Members Present
Alan Mollohan (D-WV)
Frank Wolf (R-VA)
C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD)
John Culberson (R-TX)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Adam Schiff (D-CA)

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Dr. John Holdren testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science about the key research and development programs in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request. Subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) commended the budget for continuing the doubling path for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) budgets as outlined in America COMPETES. He also supported the increase in hands-on, inquiry-based K-12 education, saying this has been proven as the most effective way to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Holdren told the committee the Obama administration’s science, technology, and innovation strategy “calls for exploration and discovery from the depths of the oceans to the frontiers of space, expanding our knowledge of our world and our universe while igniting the curiosity and ambitions of our young people.” He highlighted aspects of the R&D budget “that will lead to new products and services, new businesses and industries, increased American competitiveness, and high-quality, sustainable jobs.” These included investments in NOAA, U.S. Global Change Research Programs, and STEM education programs like Educate to Innovate and Race to the Top.

Holdren also defended the administration’s planned changes to NASA. He called it a science and technology centric restructuring. “The new approach—which adds $6 billion over the next five years for NASA—includes a vigorous technology development and test program that will begin to reverse decades of under-investment in new ideas.” The NASA budget would extend the ISS to 2020 and possibly beyond, providing more jobs for U.S. astronauts in space. Holdren claims the proposed shift to using the private-sector to launch humans into space and cutting the Constellation program for human space flight will “shorten the duration of our reliance solely on Russian launchers.” In addition, the proposed budget gives $5 billion to NASA’s Earth science missions (an increase of $500 million) to allow for re-launching the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and other Earth system observation programs.

Mollohan noted the increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA Earth science missions and research in contrast to flat line funding to other areas of NASA, saying “while climate related activities are a higher priority, all of NASA science contributes to the Nation’s science enterprise just as much as does funding for NSF, NIST, and the DOE [Department of Energy] Office of Science.”

Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA) was aghast at the cuts to NASA’s human space flight program, calling the budget “worthy of a lesser nation.” Wolf was concerned the U.S. will be ceding the Moon to China and the International Space Station (ISS) to Russia with this budget.

Holdren did not see it this way. He felt that even if China did get to the Moon, the U.S. already succeeded 50 years ago and China could not take that accomplishment away from the nation. He explained that the U.S. was already fated to be reliant on the Russians after President Bush decided to retire the space shuttle. Obama’s new plan would shorten that reliance based on the assumption that private companies could develop the necessary human launch technology faster and cheaper than the Constellation program. The U.S. needs better technology to get beyond low-Earth orbit, so Holdren thought NASA’s money was best spent investing in R&D.

The committee members expressed their disappointment with the cuts to Constellation. Most were upset by the way the situation was handled, and the lack of insight and details given to Congress. The committee felt the U.S. was going to lose the competitive edge in space by switching to the private industry. Representative C.A. Ruppersberger (D-MD) thought the concept of investments in R&D was great and “something we haven’t done in awhile,” but thought it was proceeding too quickly and without a plan. Representative John Culberson (R-TX) thought it was inappropriate to suddenly tell the field center heads their program would be cut just 2 days before the official announcement. Culberson did not believe Holdren even consulted the field centers in advance of the administration’s decision, and accused him of already settling on cutting Constellation before the Augustine report on the NASA human space flight program was even published. Holdren assured the committee that no decision was made before the report, though discussions were going on concurrently. He explained that the details are still being worked out for how to proceed now.

Wolf berated Holdren for the secrecy and “degree of arrogance” in handling the situation. Wolf and Culberson described NASA as the only federal agency, other than the military, that is able to spark passion and capture the imagination of the nation’s youth. They felt the inspiration would be lost by cutting Constellation. Holdren instead felt the administration’s plan would help NASA inspire again, and that private competition would breed a successful rocket in ways Constellation was not poised to do.

Chairman Mollohan’s opening statement and Dr. Holdren’s testimony is available from the Commerce, Science, and Justice Subcommittee web site.


Sources: NASA Budget Information web site, American Institute of Physics, hearing testimony

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Prepared by Linda Rowan and Corina Cerovski-Darriau, AGI Government Affairs Staff.

Last updated January 13, 2011

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